This week sees the first gathering of the European Social Forum. After almost a year of monthly preparatory meetings and the exchange of hundreds of emails, many thousands of leftwing militants and critics of neoliberal capitalism finally meet together. The ESF - Florence November 6-10 - gives us a great opportunity. It could become a vehicle to overcome the division of the left along national lines. It could start to effectively challenge the European Union of the bankers, bosses and bureaucrats. It could help transform the working class in Europe into a conscious internationalist class - a class that not only fights for its own vital interests, but those of humanity as a whole. But will it? Our enemies are uniting against us. The ruling classes of Europe are turning the EU into a superstate, complete with its own flag, currency and perhaps in the not too distant future an army. They are debating an EU constitution and more and more functions of individual states are being taken on by the EU. So how are the existing organisations of the working class responding? So far all have failed the test. There is next to no coordination across Europe: only hopeless attempts to produce clones from the parental confessional sect - a mockery of genuine internationalism. In this respect, the ESF is a step forward. Its preparatory meetings have already drawn together the serious organisations of the left across Europe. There were hardly any NGOs present, and no environmentalists, no anarchists. The organisation for the event is all down to Europe's revolutionary groups - in the main Italy's Rifondazione Comunista. Apart from organisations like Attac - who are still in the process of actually defining what the point of their existence is - the ESF has also attracted a range of trade unions, many of whom have officially affiliated. This is a start, but it is not enough. As a matter of urgency we need to start to work towards a Socialist Alliance of the European Union and a Communist Party of the EU. The unity of Europe is - even under capitalism - progressive. To say this is not to foster illusions in Blair, Berlusconi or Prodi - they intend to create a bureaucratic, undemocratic Europe in the interests of capital. We, on the contrary, fight for extreme democracy and the greatest influence of the working class upon every aspect of the EU. A united Europe brings the working class together, objectively and - if we revolutionaries do work properly - subjectively through a common political programme. Capitalism too creates its own gravedigger in the form of the proletariat. European integration too creates a potentially hugely powerful enemy for capital. The working class in Europe organised into a revolutionary party. Our job is to cement a united core capable of making that a reality. A Socialist Alliance of the European Union could unite us all on a higher organisational level. As the Socialist Alliance in England proves, groups with very different political ideas can work closely together. Democracy, transparency and the right to publish minority viewpoints are crucial for this. Unfortunately, there will be no official Socialist Alliance presence at the forums in Florence. At the final preparatory meeting in Barcelona, the CPGB's Anne Mc Shane suggested that the SA should have a speaker at the only meeting in which political parties are allowed to officially participate. The draft for this meeting, entitled 'Movements and political parties', had Chris Nineham from the SWP down to speak on behalf of the SWP's front organisation, Globalise Resistance. Representatives from the CPGB argued that the Socialist Alliance should in fact be the group representing Britain. You might have expected that the SWP, which already has a number of individual comrades speaking as part of the main programme, would have pushed for the Socialist Alliance to speak in this forum. But the reaction of leading SWP members after the meeting showed how wrong you would be. An irate and agitated Alex Callinicos berated us for launching an "unprincipled attack on Chris Nineham" and informed us that we were "unaccountable and opportunist sectarians". He then rushed off, refusing to discuss this with us, and we were blanked by the SWP for the rest of the weekend's meeting. If the ESF and the project of European left unity are to succeed, a bold lead is called for. At present, there are few organisations that have the influence, cadre and political strength to spark the process of left unity. Comrades in Rifondazione Comunista have shown that they take the question seriously, but more is needed. Tina Becker * Political parties kept under wraps